Getting Agency Culture Right!

Posted by on Jul, Wed, 2019 in Team Dynamics | 0 comments

July 17 - getting culture righ


When two organizations have a similar structure, funding models and approximately the same number of employees, why does one win awards for being an employer of choice and the other struggles with conflict, turnover and low employee satisfaction?

In my experience, it has to do with three factors. One is the attitude of upper management towards their staff, and the second is how much they hold their staff accountable to both their strengths and areas for growth. The final factor is clear communication throughout the agency.

Let me share some insights from, Brantwood Community Services, a winner of the Canadian Non-Profit of Choice award for 2 years running.

On the surface, things look the same as other organizations as they wait for the government announcement to know how much their funding is being cut this year. They have a mission, vision and values statement. They have staff coming to work every day.

However, when you look below the surface, you will find an incredibly supportive, respectful and highly engaged team of individuals who deliver high-quality services to their clients every day.

On their website, they sum up their Mission, Vision, and Values as “Actively supporting new possibilities for people that lead to a fulfilled life.”

Jo-Anne Flood, Executive Director ensures that this statement is central to all their actions for both clients and staff! How does she bring this is life each day?

  1. Using recognition through all levels of the organization. That means that all members of staff are engaged in recognizing one another, as well as their managers all the way to the Executive Director. Team members are active in recognizing one another for a great attitude, being supportive and welcoming and doing a stellar job!Whether it is being shared in the weekly newsletter, on social media or on a private basis, employees are celebrated for their contribution throughout the year. Efforts are made to include personal preferences in the way that recognition is shared so each individual is rewarded in a manner that suits their comfort and personality. Of course, they also set aside 2 days for a staff recognition party every summer as well! Every employee is able to attend one of the two days of food, fun, and gratitude for their role in making Brantwood a remarkable place to work!
  2. Every staff member has a face-to-face meeting with their direct supervisor on a regular, scheduled basis. The employee’s agenda is discussed first. This is an opportunity to brainstorm solutions to challenges, to acknowledge and celebrate successes and to focus on their career goals. Any concerns are addressed within these meetings. This level of accountability ensures that all employees are succeeding in their roles and supported in their ongoing professional development.
  3. Communication – A weekly newsletter, sent out personally by Jo-Anne, is a compilation of sharing latest news impacting the agency an all levels, recognizing staff members who have gone the extra mile that week, and keeping staff members informed of what’s happening in all service areas of the organization. It is emailed weekly to every staff member and is highly valued by staff as they are kept informed, even relief and part-time staff. Team members comment regularly that this communication helps them to feel connected to the organization.

This commitment to staff growth, development, mixed with support, enables their employees to rate the organization 79.6%. And unlike most employee engagement surveys, has improved over last year by 4.6%!

Let’s Keep the Ball Rolling this Summer!

Posted by on Jul, Wed, 2019 in Motivation | 0 comments

sea, beach

It is official, summer is really here!

While we talk about spring fever, we don’t have a name for the challenges that can arise when the warm weather, beaches and outdoors call us during these summer months yet they often impact how we work.

We all know that more vacation time is taken in the summer months and that projects and deliverables still need to happen, so here are a few tips on managing those projects and keeping that ball rolling forward:

  1. Ensure that time is taken to communicate all aspects of the current deliverables with all team members as they will need to be able to pitch hit for one another throughout this season. Having an open dialogue can reduce stress and prevent frustration for both your team members and your clients.
  2. Create accountability partners or “vacation partners” within the team. Have these individuals update specific aspects of ongoing projects with potential calls/issues that may arise during their vacation time. Be sure to include a list of names of all clients, phone numbers and email addresses including the best way to reach each client.
  3. Encourage staff to add a short sentence of their upcoming vacation and who will cover for them in their email signature leading up to their time off. This will make it easier for your clients to anticipate and plan for your team member’s vacation knowing that someone else can be contacted as needed.
  4. Include their vacation partner’s name and extension in their outgoing email message. Include the ability to press # with the extension number now if your phone system allows.
  5. Have each team member forward client emails that may be of assistance should their partner be contacted during their vacation. Consider forwarding emails to the vacation partner from specific clients during the time off.

These tips can help reduce your team member’s stress level as they keep those balls in the air. And when your vacation comes up, you can focus on keeping the beach ball up in the air feeling more relaxed knowing you’ve got things covered at work.

It’s Time to Recharge

Posted by on Jun, Wed, 2019 in Leadership | 0 comments

cave, retreating

I’ve retreated.

Not in an avoidant way, with the realization that I need to refuel, recharge and then come back from a better place. As I write this, I have sought refuge at my cottage to recharge my spirit that has been challenged by life these past few months.

Have you ever felt like the energizer bunny, keep going and going while telling yourself you’d take my “me time” later? Well, I fell into this trap – after all, I had things to do, clients to help and work that must be done. Yet, my batteries had drained to low.

As a non-profit leader, how often do you keep pressing on without taking time out?

When you are frazzled and worn down, it gives a message to your team members to do the same. Before you know it, your agency will be tired, stressed and the ability to deliver stellar service compromised.

Where can you find refuge for your spirit?

What self-care activity have you been secretly craving for that you can indulge yourself with?

Give yourself permission to do so. If your non-profit has been swamped and working through a particularly stressful time, how might you “gift” each employee with some time to recharge?

Could you give an hour off to each person to do whatever they liked? Organize a yoga class or other self-care activity at work? What if you held a personal care challenge where you get people to share what they did that allowed them to recharge?

We all need to come first in our lives. Like in the airplane, you must first put your oxygen mask on before attempting to help others.

I challenge you to find one thing you would really enjoy and just do it because you deserve to be pampered and recharged – savour it fully. Then plan and repeat.

Urrgh! Not THAT Again?!

Posted by on Jun, Wed, 2019 in Motivation | 0 comments

emotional man listening his inner voice over grey background

We all have them. Those annoying things we tolerate from ourselves and others. They have a way of simmering on low in the background of our minds, creating a low-level disturbance. Whether it’s your desk that’s cluttered, your computer has a glitch, or it’s someone else’s behaviour.

Do you pride yourself on being a tolerant person?

Do you tolerate your own bad habits?

Do you tolerate less than acceptable behaviour from your direct reports or colleagues?

The biggest challenge with these “tolerations” is that it creates stress in our life that is actually avoidable. As a leader, you can have many tolerations of less than optimal or poor behaviour in your staff and you are letting that slide, you’re more likely to become reactive in your communication.

So how do we take the first step to end this?

  1. On a piece of paper that won’t get lost, create three columns: From Myself, Work Related and Home.
  2. Now write out those things that you think “I’ve got to find the time to …” or “not that again” or simply things that you have become aware of as they relate to each of the 3 categories.
  3. Now put a checkmark beside those things that can easily be dealt with. And schedule a time to address them. For example, it will take how long to clean off the desk? To speak with a direct report about the ongoing behaviour and its impact on your organization?
  4. Take action. Sometimes, you’ll need to have conversations, make yourself accountable to following through on shifting a behaviour because you now recognize it as less than acceptable.
  5. Celebrate every step you take along the path.
  6. Every so often, revisit these steps. The goal is to reduce the tolerations to zero – and it is an ongoing process.
  7. When new things arise that are minor annoyances, deal with them so they won’t later be added to your list. Dealing with things quickly in a calm manner can make a significant impact to lower your stress levels.

Those tolerations are an invitation for stress. So shift into awareness and get into action so that you can shift from Urrgh!! to less stressed and even more of your awesome.

How to Perform a Self-Leadership Audit

Posted by on May, Wed, 2019 in Leadership | 0 comments

Honesty and related 3d words including sincerity, believability,

As a leader, what are you trying to achieve?

What is important to you?

What behaviours do you see that benefit yourself and others you lead?

These are all very valuable questions to ask yourself on a regular basis. Having a scheduled self-review process you can champion your wins and set goals for your challenges.

So here is a self-audit process that you can use:

  1. Create a specific list of skills and abilities that you believe leaders need to possess to be successful. If you are stuck, check out the leadership books on your bookshelf. You might need to dust them off and look at the table of contents or read a relevant chapter. Or ask your team members what the most valued aspects of a leader are for them. You will want to consider areas such as communication, respect, interpersonal relationships and so on.
  2. Rate yourself on a scale of 1 to 10 where you see yourself in this area. Now, don’t be like many leaders who exclude 10 in performance appraisals because we can never be perfect. While perfectionism is a problem given our humanness, we can rate a 10 when we are really rocking a category. Give yourself and others credit when it is due.
  3. Next, write a plan of your areas for improvement in all aspects that you’ve listed. Then choose 1 area that has the highest priority and begin to write out specific steps you will take including books and resources that you’ll use as you take action on these goals.
  4. Go to your calendar and schedule appointments to work on these goals. Set out a minimum of 3 to 5 hours each week to make this area a high priority. While you might need to have several smaller chunks of time scheduled during the week, you definitely need to take the time to integrate and shift that behaviour.
  5. Now consider what you need that you do not currently have to support these goals. Do you need more knowledge such as a book or a course? Do you need to better understand how to shift this area? Perhaps you need an accountability partner. Do you need a mentor or coach?
  6. In one month’s time, re-evaluate all the areas again and pick the highest priority. You are likely to find that focusing on one area will improve other areas as well. For example, if listening is the skill you are working on, then it is quite likely that you will notice an improvement in your communication skills. Make sure you take the time to celebrate your progress! Then repeat the process for that month.

Audits and plans are only useful if they are following and administered on a regular basis. Hit and miss efforts will result in hit and miss results. Commit to yourself to make these shifts as they will make your life more enjoyable and rewarding.

You deserve to be a priority and your personal development is important to a feeling of success and accomplishment.

How to Get Beyond Your First Assumption to Offer Growth Enhancing Accountability

Posted by on May, Wed, 2019 in Individual Purpose | 0 comments

Coach and Coaching


Recently I was presenting for an amazing group of Executive Directors on the topic of Accountability. We had time during the question period to explore some challenges that they were experiencing.

One E.D. mentioned a new employee who was speaking to the person beside her throughout a meeting. This E.D. had made an assumption of the team member’s behaviour which resulted in strong feelings of frustration. Yet, the E.D. had not spoken directly to the employee.

So what was really happening in this scenario? The story the E.D. created about the behaviour was that she was rude and disruptive. So based on this story, frustration and perhaps irritation is a natural response.

Personal Biases and Self-Awareness

What we needed to explore was the biases behind the assumption. Given that this was a new employee with a first time engaging in the behaviour, it is likely that some past experiences of the E.D. are creating the emotional charge and thus determining the “plotline” of the assumption. You see, when we have an emotion, our minds quickly step in to create a story that makes sense for us to have that emotion.

When you have a strong reaction to something ask yourself:

  • What am I assuming in this situation?
  • What personal past experiences might be impacting my viewpoint and emotional response?
  • How comfortable are you with conflict?

If you are like many leaders, you struggle with the fear of conflict. If so, get some coaching to help you shift this energy to that of comfort leaning into a challenging conversation.

Other Potential Realities

When you find yourself locked into one interpretation of the event, ask yourself what other possibilities are there?

For example, this employee may have been attempting to find out critical information so that she could follow along with the meeting. Perhaps she is a verbal processor who needs to talk to integrate information.
Perhaps she has a hearing challenge and was unable to hear what was being said and was asking someone closer.

When you create a list of possibilities, some which create the other individual (in this situation the staff member) to act positively; it’s easier to have the conversation to explore with them what was really happening in the meeting – and with decreased angst and increased compassion.

Have the Conversation (Situation + Behaviour + Impact)

Within a day or two, have a conversation with the employee while the situation is easy for them to remember. Then ask questions by simply pointing out the behaviour. “I noticed that you were talking to X in the meeting just now. I’m curious what was happening for you at that time?”

Allow the person to share their perspective with you. It will give you great insight into how they think and work. Then share your concern about the impact that people might be thinking you are rude or not paying attention. How can we help you to ensure this doesn’t happen in future meetings?

By creating a shared action plan, you are giving her guidance to grow vs. simply challenging or criticizing.

And that is the gift of Accountability – giving the other person the ability to grow into their full potential.

And remember, these techniques work for both praise and giving guidance for growth – and both are gifts!

How Your Building should be Building Your Culture

Posted by on Apr, Wed, 2019 in My work | 0 comments

Article was written by Carol Ring

Office Building

When we talk about culture we often refer to how work gets done. Today, I’d like to explore where that work gets done.

Does your office building provide amazing support or is it just a contained place to congregate?

Whenever I think about culture and the physical workspace, I recall the time I attended a Board meeting in Toronto. It was being held at the new offices of Corus Entertainment on the waterfront. I hopped out of the taxi and there before me was an eight-story, all glass building. The automatic sliding doors opened into a tall, bright space where you could see right through to Lake Ontario at the back of the building. A small information desk welcomed me. A quick check-in resulted in an “ambassador” greeting me and guiding me to the glass-enclosed meeting room.

When I returned to my own office, the contrast couldn’t have been more different. The entrance way was confined with swipe card required turnstiles and a formal security sign-in desk. There were floors and floors of cubicles and vault-like meeting rooms. It was definitely designed to maximize density. Not that one office was better than the other, but the “feel”, the message about the culture was poles apart.

The Workplace Fundamentals

When taking your physical workspace into consideration there are two aspects that must be considered. The first is to account for the different types of work our employees engage in every day. The second is how to translate the core of your culture into the elements of the furniture, walls, and flooring.

Four types of work mode:

  1. Focus: Basex, an American research firm, indicates that the average employee spends 28% of their time dealing with interruptions. And yet, these same employees recorded that 58% of their work requires them to individually focus for long periods of time. Large open spaces just aren’t conducive for maximizing outputs for this type of work. Consider incorporating small cubbies with sound absorbing acoustic furniture and “quiet” zones that allow employees to focus and get absorbed in their work.
  2. Collaboration: The whole idea behind the open office concept was to increase collaboration and team alignment. However, since employees don’t spend 100% of their time collaborating, does it really make sense to lock them into this kind of environment for 100% of their workday? Creating spaces where people can authentically come together, with readily available technology that supports brainstorming, will generate better group efforts. Consider appropriate spaces for small group work which can easily be augmented for bigger teams.
  3. Learning: In today’s Knowledge Economy professional development is key. This development can be delivered in a town hall group setting or through self-study, or any other training delivery method in between. Having an adaptable space that can be set up as a classroom or comfortable informal learning pods encourages employees to engage in learning opportunities.
  4. Socialization: The pressure at work can be intense. In order to be most productive, employees need to take breaks and regenerate. I love Dr. Posner’s analogy of high performing hockey teams. Each player takes a 30-second shift and then returns to the bench to rest. There are intermissions between periods, days between games, and finally a long break before the next season. How can you create spaces that will encourage employees to take a rest from work and either engage in solitary walks in nature or socialize with co-workers? One way to do this is to use a mix of bar top tables, diner-style booths, or casual occasional table with couches and chairs. It’s about creating the neighborhood Starbucks experience.

Incorporating Culture into the Physical Space

The best office designers spend time researching their client’s culture. Is family important? If so, how do we build that family feel into the furniture elements? Is innovation critical? How do we use colour, texture, and layout to inspire invention?

How is your building working for you? Corus says their building has, “revolutionized how Corus delivers its technical product and at the same time the building has transformed the way the Corus’ team works.”

About our Guest Blogger:
Carol Ring, FCPA FCMA is the Founder and President of The Culture Connection. For over 25 years, Carol had the privilege of working for companies including Ultramar, Coca-Cola and Rogers Communications. Her high-performance corporate results earned her recognition as one of Canada’s Top 100 Most Powerful Women.  Today, as a certified culture consultant, Carol is obsessed with creating workplaces that move employees from passive passengers to passionate partners.
Carol offers culture-specific assessments, leadership workshops and training, and conference keynotes.  Clients who work with Carol experience reduced employee turnover, improved productivity and better bottom line results.
She is the author of IGNITE Your Culture – 6 Steps to Fuel Your People, Profits and Potential and Awakening the Workplace. Learn more about Carol at


Overwhelm vs. Acceptance & Self-Compassion

Posted by on Apr, Wed, 2019 in Motivation | 0 comments

Sea stones at sunset


We all have had those days and weeks where we wonder what more can possibly happen and we sink into overwhelm.

That was me last week, feeling a little under the weather, not sleeping well and had two close family members hospitalized. At first, I fought being overwhelmed and it wasn’t until I decided to fully accept where I was at and use self-compassion that I was able to shift into calm, functioning mode again.

It’s funny, as I write this I think to myself, that doesn’t sound like a lot – yet it was at the time. It’s so easy to jump into judgment when these things happen to us or someone else.

Tip on how to get out of overwhelm:

  1. Acknowledge what you are really experiencing. Don’t minimize it, don’t try to push through.
  2. Take time out to determine what you personally need right now.
  3. Ask for help – whether it’s helping to complete tasks, emotional support, or something else, ask for what you need.
  4. Practice self-compassion! Treat yourself like you would treat a best friend (or even better).
  5. What can you reasonably take off your load? I pushed out a couple of deadlines, made some changes to my blog schedule and took some much needed time off.
  6. Engage in self-nurturing behaviours. Take a walk, have a healthy meal, a hot bath or whatever nurtures you.
  7. Breathe. Slow down and simply breathe. This too shall pass.

When in overwhelm, our bodies produce a great deal of adrenalin and it taxes our system – often resulting in getting physically ill. So taking time to relax, refresh and replenish ourselves – both physically and emotionally is vital.

Self-care is important to maintain your mental health. You deserve it. Your team deserves it.

Lessons About Conflict from the Beautiful Jack Pine Tree

Posted by on Mar, Wed, 2019 in Team Dynamics | 0 comments

Jack Pine March 20


The beautiful Jack Pine tree of northern Canada has become famous by the hands of Canadian Painter, Tom Thomson.

What you may not know about the Jack Pine tree is that it is very resistant to many forces in nature. It can flourish in harsh conditions and grows in colder climates. Yet, it requires challenging conditions of significant heat to open the pine cone and release its seed. In fact, it experiences rebirth after forest fires – nature’s conflict – as many seeds are released. In other words, through embracing conflict, the Jack Pine thrives.

Like the Jack Pine, teams need to embrace conflict to be successful. I suppose if we gave a human voice to a Jack Pine tree, it might say that it feared being destroyed by fire; yet it is the very thing that can ensure its survival. After all, it’s estimated that conflict costs Canadian organizations over $16.1 Billion per year!

Team members avoid conflict for a multitude of reasons that in their fear-based position make sense, and; in reality, create even more difficulty and strife for them.

Leaders need to learn how to embrace healthy conflict themselves. Many leaders fear conflict might rage like a forest fire and tend to squelch it. Other leaders charge into conflict like a raging fire and also tend to silence the voice of the team. It’s time for Conflict 2.0.

In my work as a Team Dynamics Specialist, it has become crystal clear to me that conflict is the solution. It is merely individuals having different points of view. All are valid, and need to be listened to, and enveloped in curiosity. Simply because within those differences lies the seeds of growth.

If we assumed that all parties in a discussion had important and useful input that when shared and explored could result in even better results would that not reduce the irrational fears that teams typically bring to conflict?

It is high time to explore the conflict in your team and to reap the benefits of that growth through exploring the differences with respect, honour, and curiosity.

To begin the process, it is very helpful to have a coach to lead the way to enable a new culture around differences and to explore the hidden “seeds” of opportunity that your team has been holding in.

Trust or No Trust?

Posted by on Mar, Wed, 2019 in Communication, Leadership | 0 comments

March 6th

When I begin to work with clients, it is common to find challenges with trust. Many teams have conflict and difficulty because there is little, or at times, no trust in one another. When this happens, it’s important to get assistance right away to rebuild the trust.

Let’s look at TRUST bit by bit:

T is for Transparency. Leaders that share freely and openly what is happening throughout the agency with others build trust. The old style of management was to hold the information and only share it as needed. High trust environments require sufficient trust from leaders to communicate the information in a timely and clear manner. Consider a regular e-newsletter or meeting to share upcoming changes in team, funding and other news, while ensuring every team member has the same access to the information across the organization.

R is for Relationships. The quality of your relationships with partner agencies, funders, team members and clients highly impacts your level of success. Ensuring that you are respectful, honest, using candor and listening to deeper issues, build trust in relationships. Leaders who have positive relationships built on consistency, collaboration and congruency will build trust with employees. Ensure you are consistent with what you say you will do, act in the same manner you wish your employees to and ensure that you are holding both yourself and your team members accountable.

U is for Understanding. Make the investment to fully appreciate what your staff is experiencing in terms of successes and challenges in their work. By fully understanding their world, you can ensure that policies and procedures serve both your team and your clients’ needs. When you don’t understand another individual’s perspective, ask open-ended questions that you don’t know the answer to. Also, regularly ask yourself what your assumptions are in the moment and ask questions with genuine curiosity to ensure you have a thorough understanding of the other person’s perspective.

S is for Shared Success. Creating a clear vision of shared success is important to bring your Mission Statement to life every day. Uncover potential barriers to good work and seek creative solutions to resolve them. Don’t just see these comments as complaints but instead, investigate to understand and then seek solutions. Make time to celebrate your successes with one another and as an agency as a means to build momentum, so that your shared vision comes to life. Begin each supervision meeting, or team meeting, with a check in where individuals can share their biggest win or challenge they want help with. Celebrate those wins! And make time to brainstorm solutions to those challenges.

T is for Team. Creating teams based on mutual respect, communication, and fair treatment is needed for trust. Holding individuals accountable even when it is difficult is important. Without accountability, trust is broken. If some individuals are allowed to engage in behaviour that is less than the definition of shared success, then other team members will eventually resent it and often conflict results. By upholding team expectations in this way, team members will trust that you have their best interests at heart and will give more discretionary effort.

When trust is lacking in an organization, there will be more conflict and a lack of appropriate accountability. However, with higher trust comes increased staff engagement, reduced turnover and deeper dedication to your organization!

If you are struggling with T-R-U-S-T in your organization, let’s have a conversation and start to turn it around today.